With Willie Calhoun likely to miss the start of the season after suffering a fractured jaw, how will the Texas Rangers adjust their plans in left field?
The Texas Rangers were dealt an unfortunate blow to their Opening Day lineup on Sunday when Willie Calhoun was hit in the face by a 95 mph fastball from Julio Urias in a Spring Training game against the Dodgers. On Monday, Calhoun was diagnosed with a fractured jaw and although no official timeline has been released, the club is expecting to be without the 25-year old to start the season.
Calhoun was to be the club’s primary left fielder in 2020 following an up and down first few years with the organization. The work Calhoun put in to lock up his spot in the big leagues with Texas is well documented and for many, this season felt like the year when all of Calhoun’s hard work would pay off with a breakout campaign. Now, the Rangers must adjust, finding a suitable replacement for Willie in left field until the young slugger can return to the lineup.
Nick Solak Seems to be the Logical LF Choice
One of the storylines entering this spring was whether or not Nick Solak could adapt to center field fast enough to take over the starting job from Danny Santana. However, despite some positive signs, Chris Woodward made clear the intention to have Danny Santana in center field come Opening Day. That left the question of how to get Solak, who hit .293 in 33 games with the Rangers last season, into the lineup. While Calhoun’s injury is certainly a blow and a disappointment for those looking forward to see a player’s hard work culminate in a starting job, it does mean Texas has another chance to get Solak in the lineup early in the year.
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Calhoun for Solak is not the trade off the Rangers would want to be making but there are worse alternatives than a player who has been heralded for his hitting ability at every level of pro ball. The question for Solak in left field, as is with him and any position, is whether Solak can play defense well enough to not completely offset his bat. For now, that would seem to be the only stumbling block between deeming Solak the left fielder to open the season.
Solak working in left is something we’re likely to see throughout the remainder of the spring. We even got our first taste on Monday when Solak got the start in left field against the A’s. In fact, Solak threw out Sean Murphy trying to leg out a double. Well officially he did. Murphy was very much safe…
But regardless, that’s an encouraging throw to see from Solak who was making his first appearance in left field as a part of the Rangers organization. It’s unlikely that Solak will emerge as a plus defender, but how he handles left field over the next couple of weeks could give us an idea of whether or not he can be a legitimate option to open the season in left.
Alternatives to Solak
Outside of Solak, the Rangers have just a few options to fill in for Calhoun until he returns. On the expected big league roster, Scott Heineman would be an option with his ability to play all outfield positions. Heineman would be the best defensive option Texas has but he’s questionable at the plate at this point and would be a tough sell for an everyday spot.
The Rangers could return Choo to the outfield, at least part time, until Calhoun returns. Choo came up as a right fielder although he’s a negative UZR/150 in right every year since 2010. This would also mean moving Joey Gallo back to left field, something the Rangers likely won’t be excited to do. There is a real possibility that Gallo could emerge as one of the best right fielders in the game with his arm and power at the plate. Texas likely won’t want to delay that test any longer.
Calhoun’s injury could open up an opportunity for Adolis Garcia who at this point has a fringe chance to make the big league roster. Garcia features big time power from the right side and some solid athleticism in the outfield. However, he has a lot of swing-and-miss in his offensive game, something Texas doesn’t need to add to their lineup at this point, at least on an everyday basis.
Long Term Outlook
The bright side of all this for Texas is that it looks like Calhoun escaped the worst case scenario with this injury. By no means should a fractured jaw be trivialized but he was able to avoid having his jaw wired shut as part of the healing process which makes recovery slightly easier. To put it shortly, Calhoun hopefully won’t be out for a large chunk of the season and we’ll get to see him in Arlington sooner rather than later. By all accounts Calhoun looked primed for the best season of his career and was sure to factor in as a key piece in what would be his first full year in the Majors. With some luck, wee should still get that full season of June Calhoun.